Players turn out to honor Calhoun

Former UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun, left, speaks with former players Ray Allen, right, and Scott Burrell Sunday in Storrs prior to a program honoring Calhoun's career.
Jessica Hill/AP photo Former UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun, left, speaks with former players Ray Allen, right, and Scott Burrell Sunday in Storrs prior to a program honoring Calhoun's career.

Storrs - Few people have made a bigger impact on Ray Allen's life than Jim Calhoun.

From the first time Allen met Calhoun until Sunday when the former UConn great and two-time NBA champion attended a tribute to his former coach at Gampel Pavilion, he's grown a great deal from their relationship.

"It's everlasting," Allen said of Calhoun's impact. "There's so many things that have been built into me from the moment I came to Connecticut, from the way I eat, to the way I think, to the way I prepare, the commitment to the game, and how I compete.

"It's everything that he instilled in me. … Being in the business of sports for the last 18 years, everything that I am I attribute to him because he taught me how to be a professional."

Allen was part of a large turnout of extended members of the UConn basketball family at the special event called, "Heart of a Champion: A Tribute to Jim Calhoun." It will benefit The Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at the UConn Health Center and the UConn Basketball Development Center Fund.

What Calhoun, who retired a year ago, cherishes the most about his Hall of Fame coaching career is the close-knit relationships that he built and still maintains with his players.

"Seeing these guys come in here today is an incredibly emotional thing for me personally," Calhoun said. "A long, long time ago I said that I wanted to get into coaching to hopefully affect some people's lives. They've affected mine, I know for sure.

"… I knew it would be an emotional day. When I see them, it just does something to me certainly. … It's an incredible bond that never gets broken."

The feeling is mutual for his former players.

"He's a father figure to me," said Stanley "Sticks" Robinson. "So I just wanted to be here to support him."

When Jeff Adrien heard about the Calhoun tribute in June, he circled the date on his calendar.

"I had to be here…," Adrien said. "I loved every second of it, good and bad. It was an honor to play for coach Calhoun."

The family bond between Calhoun and his players took time to develop.

In fact, many Huskies wondered where the warm and fuzzy coach who showed up during the recruiting process was when the first day of practice started.

Calhoun is a firm believer in tough love and discipline.

"He's always pushing and he's always asking for more, and it makes you into who you are," A.J. Price said.

To this day, Allen, a member for the NBA champion Miami Heat, said he still hears Calhoun's voice during a practice.

"I cringe during practice when one of the coaches is talking and one of the other guys will bounce the basketball during the conversation," Allen said. "Coach Calhoun would put us all on the line. So that's something that's always been in me.

"… The guys that I played with and play with in the NBA didn't come from that. Their coaches didn't run a tight ship like that. We crave that discipline here and it still stays with me. … Each one of us, we have a bond to this day because we knew what we had to go through to exist and we all had a responsibility."

Calhoun has an advisor's role at UConn now. He says he greatly misses coaching and the kids.

Sunday night gave him a chance to reflect on his career. Some speakers included Allen, Ben Gordon, Rudy Gay, Kemba Walker, Richard Hamilton and coach Kevin Ollie. North Carolina's Roy Williams, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski delivered video tributes.

"I don't usually look back…." Calhoun said. "It's a special time for me. Your mind goes back to when all this all began. … I do have a sincere love for these guys and what they've done for me, my family, my life and for the institution that we're at."

UConn capped off the festivities by announcing that Stadium Road on campus will be renamed Jim Calhoun Way.

Allen is happy that Calhoun can celebrate his career.

"I feel honored to be a part of this because it is a testimony to who he is and where he's come from, and to be able to see the lineage of players that he's been able to teach and grow," Allen said. "We've become men under his watch. … Something from him is in each one of us."

g.keefe@theday.com

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